You Are Good Enough


April 22, 2018

John 10:11-18


I had an idea this week…

You know how we’ve been talking about reaching out into our community,

growing, and making new connections.

Some of that is of course marketing and social media.


So I had this idea…

What if we changed the name of our church?

What if…instead of “Good Shepherd Lutheran Church,”

we were “Great Shepherd Lutheran Church!”

Great idea, right?


It’s interesting that Jesus chooses the word ‘good.’

I am the good shepherd.

Not the great shepherd;

not the awesome shepherd;

not the extraordinary shepherd.

The good shepherd.


It’s important that he chooses that word,

because we are all called to be shepherds.

Later in the gospel of John he says:

Feed my lambs.

Tend my sheep.

Be my shepherd.


And if we had to be “great” shepherds or “extraordinary shepherds,”

we just wouldn’t even be able to start.

So what does a good shepherd do?


The Bible talks about bad shepherds…

In Ezekiel, the ‘wicked shepherd,’

fails to care for the poor and sick.


In 1523 Martin Luther wrote a sermon about this Bible reading,

and in fitting with his context when he was confronting the religious leaders of his day,

he said he knew some bad shepherds – the pope and bishops!

The reason he called them ‘bad shepherds,’

was because he said they were always telling people “do this” or “do that,”

but Jesus’ message wasn’t that you had to be or do something different to be loved by God,

but merely to “Come,” and see how much God already loves you.

God already loves you.

You are good enough.


In our culture, when we say someone or something is “good enough,”

it carries a connotation of mediocrity – who wants to be ‘just’ good enough?


But it is tremendously freeing to say with boldness that

“Good enough” is ‘good enough.’


Back in the 1950’s, British pediatrician DW Winnicott wrote about the ‘good enough’ mother.

(It was the 50’s – so caregivers were mothers for the most part –

today he probably would have written about the ‘good enough’ parent.)


He said a ‘good enough’ parent was one who cared for their child’s needs.

Who met their needs as an infant – fully and completely.

But, he said, that same parent as the child grows ought to fail sometimes.

If a child never experiences frustration,

they’ll never learn to adapt to a changing world.

In fact Winnicott said, perfection in a parent

is a sure path to really messing up your kids.

And so he advised not trying to be a perfect parent – but a ‘good enough’ parent.


So back to my earlier question…

If we don’t have to be the perfect shepherds, but a good shepherd…

what does a good shepherd – a ‘good enough’ shepherd do?


This text suggests a couple of things.


First of all, a good enough shepherd is self-giving.

Unlike a ‘hired hand’ for whom work is ‘just a job,’

a shepherd gives of themselves.


Perhaps Tammi Jo Shults’ name sounds familiar now…

She was the pilot of Southwest Flight 1380.

The flight lost part of its engine shortly after takeoff,

and Tammi Jo managed to the plane safely.

You can listen to the audio between her and the air traffic controller.

Her voice is calm –

“We have lost part of the engine.”


Then –

“A passenger has gone out.”

You can hear the anxiety in the air traffic controller’s voice –

“A passenger has gone out of the plane ???!!!”

He then asks her where on the runway she’d like to park.

She responds simply, “We’ll park next to the fire truck.”

Nerves of steel indeed.


But what I think is just as remarkable is what happens next.

After the landing, she doesn’t rush off the plane to try to contact her own family…

Instead she meets with each of the passengers on board.

And she makes a statement saying,

We were simply doing our job….but our hearts grieve for the family of the passenger who died.


It was never ‘simply a job’ though for Tammi Jo.

She was not a hired hand.

She was a shepherd – a good shepherd.

Certainly good enough.

A good enough shepherd is self-giving.


Jesus also says that a good enough shepherd makes room for others –

others who are not yet part of the fold.


Pope Francis made news this week.


Apparently the pope was visiting a parish on the outskirts of Rome.

When he travels, he invites questions from those who are listening,

and this time a young boy around 7-8 years old was invited to ask a question.


He came to the microphone,

but despite encouragement, was just too shy to ask his question.

So the pope motions the boy (whose name is Emmanuele) to come closer to him,

and to whisper the question into his ear.


Emmanuele walks up to the pope,

and the two are seen having a brief conversation

before the boy returns to his seat.


The pope then says,

“This is what Emmanuele and I talked about…

Emmanuele’s father died recently,

and he was an atheist.

And Emmanuele wanted to know if his father was in heaven….



I told Emmanuele that God has a dad’s heart.

(I don’t know Italian, but I think it was intentional that the pope used “dad” rather than father!)

And would God keep a child of his far from him?”


The pope asks the crowd again and again,

“Would God keep a child of his far from him?”

“Would God keep a child of his far from him?”

No. No.


Jesus says that there are other sheep who are not part of this fold,

and he will go out and bring them in too.

The pope spoke of the character of God

who makes room for others to join the fold.

Whereas some of us in the church create boundaries between us and them,

the good shepherd reveals the character of God which breaks down barriers…

whose sole desire is that all are close to him.

Not the perfect. Not the great. Not the extraordinary…but all are close to him.


You are not great – and that’s okay.

(Even Jesus isn’t a ‘great’ shepherd.)

You are good enough…


You are a good enough parent

even if you’ve never been a perfect parent.


You are a good enough student

even if you’ve been rejected by your 1st or 2nd or 10th or 12th choices of schools.


You are a good enough worker

even if you didn’t get that promotion or the job you wanted.


You may not be great…

but you are good enough.

You are good enough – just as you are.





The Disabled God


Easter 4B: The Disabled God

Luke 24:36b-48

April 15, 2018


What would you do to prove that you’re alive?!


I hope I never have to do that myself…

but Charles Hubbard did.


A number of years ago, Charles got a letter from the Veterans Administration…

(actually his family got the letter).

It said that Charles had died and yet the VA had continued to send benefits,

so they needed to pay the money back.


Well, Charles had not died.

He was a victim of identity theft, and the person who’d called himself Charles Hubbard had died.

So Charles got all the documents he needed to prove that he was alive…

and sent them back to the VA.


The VA responded with another note…

“Thank you” it said.

And you can be expected to be returned to life again in about 8 months time…

8 months!


Jesus meets up with the disciples in this story from Luke’s gospel –

the disciples who know that Jesus has died.

When he arrives, they think he’s a ghost.


So Jesus has to prove to them that he’s not dead, he’s not a spirit,

but he’s alive!


It’s interesting what he doesn’t do…

He doesn’t say, “Listen to my voice…don’t you recognize it?”

He doesn’t say, “Look at my face…it’s me!”


No,..instead he suggests two more peculiar things.


First, he says,

“Have you got anything to eat?”

After all, ghosts don’t eat.

To prove that he’s alive to the disciples, Jesus wants to show them that he’s hungry,

and can eat.


Ghosts don’t eat.

(And I did a little research this week and discovered as best as I can tell,

that zombies don’t eat either.)


Eating is such a basic human need.

As my dad grew older and more frail, when I would ask him how he was doing, he’d respond,

“Up and taking nourishment!” – just the basics, the minimal of being alive.


Very often when I visit a hospital or nursing home,

one of my conversation questions is, “How’s the food?”

Food is important.

Eating is one of the needs of human life.

So Jesus like the teenager coming home and opening the fridge asks,

“Have you got anything to eat?”


The second thing Jesus does to prove he’s alive is that he

tells the disciples “Look at my hands and my feet.”


There’s a marvelous sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor about this text,

and she talks about how we recognize hands and feet.

She said imagine a post office with Wanted posters not of faces,

but of hands and feet.


There are some people that I think I could recognize

solely by looking at their hands.

Our hands tell stories about us….stories that our faces might hide.


My uncle was a mechanic,

and his hands have the grease marks that never have gone away.


Mr. Bender was a construction worker who worked on our house growing up.

My brother and I were always fascinated by his hands,

because part of his fourth finger was missing – from a table saw injury.


I have a callous on the inner part of my 3rd finger

from gripping pens and pencils over the years.

There’s a birthmark on the back of my left hand,

and in the winter time, my knuckles usually have patches of dry skin.


Our hands reveal a lot about us.


Over the years the disciples would’ve seen Jesus – and his hands.

They would’ve watched his hands bless and break the bread and share it with people.

They would’ve seen him that time reach down and take some mud on his hands,

work it into a paste, and apply it to the eyes of a man who had been blind – and heal him.

They would’ve watched him touch a man with leprosy with his hands,

and maybe as he taught, he spoke waving his hands.

They would’ve known his hands well.


And probably they’d know his feet.

They’d know the tiredness of his feet from walking hundreds of miles around Galilee.

They’d remember seeing the woman from Bethany wash his feet,

and wipe it with her hair;

pouring perfumed ointment over his feet that last week.


So when Jesus says, “Look at my hands and feet,”

he knows the disciples will remember what they were like – what they did.

But also, he knows they will remember what happened to them…

they were still wounded, still scarred by the cross.


It’s rather remarkable that Jesus returns to the disiciples

showing his scarred hands and feet.


For Nancy Eisland, this very passage from the gospel of Luke

was hugely influential in her life as a person of faith and as a theologian.

The fact that Jesus showed up with scarred hands and feet

was enormously liberating.


Nancy, you see, was born with a bone disease.

By the time she was 13 she had had over 11 surgeries.

Over the years, she had canes and crutches, wheelchairs and scooters.


There was one thing she couldn’t quite explain, however….

She would get uncomfortable when people would comment,
“Aren’t you looking forward to heaven

when you will be able to walk again without crutches or a wheelchair?”


Frankly, Nancy did not want to be free of crutches or a wheelchair in heaven.

Her life of faith, her connection with God, her very identity was wrapped up

in all of who she was – disability included.

She commented that if she didn’t have crutches or a wheelchair in heaven,

she’s not sure she’d even know who she was!


So when Nancy discovered this passage from Luke –

when she saw that Jesus showed up to the disciples WITH his scars –

that his scars had not gone away,

then Nancy felt liberated.

She called this discovery  a discovery of the ‘disabled God’ –

God who could identify with her;

God who revealed godself in the wounded Christ;

God who showed up in the human Jesus who did not avoid suffering, but went through suffering just as she had.

She could have a connection with this God,

for whom injury was part of who he was.

This God understood disability.


Jesus said, “Look at my hands and my feet,” – and they were scarred.


At the end of our reading, Jesus says one thing more.

He says, “You are to be my witnesses.”


Jesus witnessed with his voice,

but he knew what his followers were really looking at –

they were looking at his hands and feet.

They were looking to see whether or not his words

matched what his hands were doing, what his feet were doing.

They knew it was him; they knew he was alive and not a ghost

because they recognized his hands and feet.


When our world is looking for Jesus,

they are looking at our hands and our feet too.

Where have we gone?

What have we been doing?



Cynics Take Heart


Easter 2B – Cynics Take Heart!

John 20:19-31

April 8, 2018


“Cynics Take Heart!” is today’s sermon title.

Doubters, Questioners, Investigators, Skeptics…

Thomas is our saint!


There isn’t much about Thomas in the Bible…

his name means “twin” – but who was his twin?

Nowhere in the Bible does it mention the name of his twin –

many people believe that it’s because the twin to Thomas – is us!

We are the twin doubters, the twin skeptics, the twin cynics.


There’s another story about Thomas..

Earlier in the gospel of John,

Jesus’ disciples are afraid to go back to Judea –

the region where Jesus brought Lazarus out of the tomb,

resulting in anger and fear of the Jewish leaders – so they threaten to stone him.


Thomas on the other hand is all in!

“Let us all go that we might die with him!” Thomas says.

Thomas is bold, opinionated….


And afterwards, as the disciples disperse and travel to plant churches,

Thomas goes the furthest.

He heads east – far east – to India.

There are churches in India today which trace their lineage back to Thomas!


Thomas could be a twin to some of us – he’s a lot like us –

he likes to travel;

he’s passionate and opinionated;

he’s a skeptic;

and he’s alone.


In today’s reading we hear that the disicples are huddling all together,

frightened enough that they’ve kept the door locked.

They’re all there – that is except Thomas.

Thomas is missing.


Where was he?

Was he out trying to find a new job,

since it seemed that the thing he’d been doing for 3 years was now all over?

Was he out at some pub,

drowning his disappointment and sadness.

Or perhaps he just needed some time to himself

to sort things out.


For whatever reason, Thomas wasn’t there.

So he didn’t get to experience what the other disciples did.

He didn’t see Jesus and hear him say, “Peace be with you.”


Who could blame him for not believing the other disciples

when they said, “We have seen the Lord!”

Who could blame him for being skeptical –

he only asked to see what they were able to see.


Skepticism comes from experience.

As we get older we’ve had more times in which we’ve been deceived.

We get more cynical – we’re less likely to take on face value what someone else says.

Actually I saw a study this week said that on average,

cynicism grows after the age of 44.

(For those of you who are already cynical even though you’re not yet 44,

it just means you’ve had more experiences!)


Cynics take heart!

Thomas is our saint.


And he shows that skepticism can be healthy.

The word “skeptic” means ‘inquiry’ – someone who investigates, who researches.

Wisdom comes from discernment.


I wish that Mrs. Backey had been a bit more skeptical.

I wish she had investigated more, asked more questions, researched more….


Mrs. Backey was a woman in her late 70’s

who lived kitty corner from my grandmother on Waite St in Malden, MA,

a working class town outside of Boston.


Mrs. Backey was a maid.

It was said that she spent much of every day on her hands and knees scrubbing floors.


And she was frugal.

She saved every penny she could.


Well, one day there was a knock at her door.

When she answered she saw a man who looked rather official.

He was probably wearing a suit,

and maybe he even had a badge.


He told Mrs. Backey that he was from the FBI and he had some bad news for her.

He said that there was someone at her bank who was embezzling money,

and they weren’t sure yet who it was.

Until the FBI could solve the case,

they were recommending that everyone who had money in the bank,

withdraw it and let the FBI hold onto it for safekeeping.


Mrs. Backey did what the man said.

She withdrew her entire life savings from the bank and gave it to this stranger

whom she believed was from the FBI.


I wish Mrs. Backey were more skeptical.

I wish she asked more questions….


Cynics – take heart!


Notice what happens when Jesus returns to the house a week later.

He doesn’t scold Thomas for his questions..

instead he embraces them.


He tells Thomas to come and check it out –

see the marks of the nails in his hands,

and put his hand in his side.


Thomas doesn’t need to at this point.

He’s experienced enough.

He exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”


All of us have times in life when we’re more skeptical…

when we have more questions than answers;

when we’re feel more cynical.


All of us.


Even the most ‘saintly’ among us have had times – even decades of doubt.

You’ve likely heard about Mother Theresa.


After this saintly woman died,

her spiritual director published some of her letters which showed how deep her doubts went.

She wrote things like,

“The place of God in my soul is blank…” and

“There is no God in me…”


What do we do in these times of doubt?

We do what Mother Theresa did – we keep doing our best to act like Jesus.

Because when we act like Jesus, we might just see Jesus.


How about those of us who are at a time of spiritual highs?

What do we do?

We do the same – we too do our best to act like Jesus.

Because those around us, our friends in community, need to see our testimony –

not just in words, but in our actions.

By our actions, they might just see Jesus.


Cynics Take Heart!

Thomas is our saint!



Living the Alleluias and the Broken Hallelujahs


April 1, 2018

Mark 16:1-8


“And they said nothing to anyone,

because they were afraid.”



That’s how our Easter gospel ends?

Jesus never appears…

No alleluias…

Fear and silence…that’s it.


No wonder later monks as they were transcribing the texts,

added their own ending…

They tried to tidy it up a bit.

Your Bible probably has these alternate endings in brackets…

Maybe labelled “shorter ending” and “longer ending.”


But most scholars agree…

Mark intended to end his gospel here:

“And they said nothing to anyone,

because they were afraid.”



Perhaps because Mark invites us to stand with the women –

to continue the story ourselves.

If they are afraid to tell – maybe we will.

The empty tomb is only a beginning to the resurrection story –

we live resurrection.


And sometimes living resurrection is in the midst of “Alleluias!!!”

And sometimes we live resurrection in the midst of a lot of ‘broken hallelujahs.’


Four stories.

Four stories of Alleluias and broken hallelujahs….

All about living resurrection.


Story number one: Leonard Cohen of course.

Cohen wrote the song “Hallelujah” and IMG-4348coined the phrase ‘broken hallelujahs.’

This song is now immensely popular;

It’s been covered over 100 times;

but it took 15 years to become famous –

and only after the artist who covered it vanished.


Cohen said that it took him 5 years to write the song.

He was talking to Bob Dylan one day,

and Dylan asked him how long it took to write “Hallelujah.”

Cohen was a little embarrassed that it had taken him 5 years,

so he said “Two – two years.”

And then Cohen asked Dylan how long it took him to write his most recent hit –

Dylan answered, “15 minutes.”……


Cohen said about his song that,

‘the song explains that there are many kinds of hallelujahs –

and the perfect hallelujahs and the broken hallelujahs have equal value.’


Easter is about living resurrection in all the alleluias – the perfect and the broken.


Story number 2: the UMBC Retreivers

The team has True Grit – a Chesapeake Bay retriever has a mascot.

It’s not known as a sports school.

It’ s known for science and technology…and chess…

The UMBC retrievers have won six national chess championships!


So when they made it to the NCAA basketball tournament, it was a big deal.

They’d last played in the tournament in 2008.

The Retreivers were seeded 16th and they played the number one seed Virginia.

The odds were 1/135 against them.

In fact, there had NEVER been a time when the 16th ranked team defeated the 1st ranked team.

But the Retreivers won!

They won by 20 points! Alleluia!!!


Sports are well-known for those contests which show both

‘the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.’


An insightful commentator wrote after the game,

that he wondered what would be the legacy from this game.

For UMBC, it would be easy –

it was a time of celebration.

It’s not difficult to live resurrection in the midst of alleluias.


But this sportswriter said, the legacy of this game is far more important for the Virginia team.

What will they take from this game?

In the face of humiliating defeat,

in the brokennest of broken hallelujahs,

where would they go from here?


Living resurrection in all the alleluias,

means to live it in the broken ones as well.


Story Number 3: Linda Brown


In 1951, Linda Brown was a 3rd grader at Monroe Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas.

She had a great group of neighborhood friends…

but they didn’t go to her school.

Linda walked six blocks and then took a bus to her school.

Her friends could walk to the neighborhood school – Sumner Elementary.


Linda’s father Oliver thought it made no sense for his daughter

to have to walk six blocks and then take a bus to school,

so he went to Sumner Elementary school and requested she be enrolled.

The school refused to enroll Linda at Sumner School.


It was 1951 and schools were segregated,

and Linda was black – Monroe Elementary School was the ‘black’ school.

Sumner Elementary was for the white students.


Oliver Brown and a group of other parents joined together

to present a legal case against the school system which refused to enroll his daughter

in her neighborhood school.


As we now know, the case made it all the way to the Supreme Court,

and in 1954 in a case named, “Brown vs. the Board of Education,”

segregation in schools was legally struck down.



But….it turned out to be a broken hallelujah.


In 1978, Linda Brown had children of her own.

And they were in elementary school in Topeka.

Segregation was illegal.

Yet, in practice, her children were still attending segregated schools.


She and others mounted a challenge…

and this too went through the courts until the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal from the school system.

In 1993 (1993!), the schools were not only legally integrated,

but compelled to make changes so that they would be integrated in practice as well.


There are alleluias and broken hallelujahs..


Living resurrection means to live into the promise

that the work continues….sometimes what seems to be an alleluia is only the beginning –

resurrection continues the work –

as we mark the 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination this week,

we are reminded that the work may need to continue after we’re gone.


Story number 4: Three Women


Three women – and we know their names –

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome –

go to the tomb and the body of Jesus is not there.

And they are afraid, and run away in fear and amazement.

They tell no one.


Their silence is waiting to be filled in by us –

in the way we live resurrection.


The life of faith is shaped by times of fear and amazement;

victory and defeat;

alleluias and broken hallelujahs.


How will we live resurrection in the midst of all the alleluias?

He is risen! He is not here!

What’s next for you?





Taking Part In The Anti-March


Palm-Passion Sunday – Taking Part In The Anti-March

March 25, 2018


Julius Caesar was born 100 years before Jesus.

By most accounts he was a military genius –

he defeated Britain, France, Belgium, and much of Germany.

He was also popular –

both rich and poor loved him –

he gave tax cuts to the rich;

an he gave land to the poor.

It was said that he knew the name of every soldier in battle.

He was a charismatic leader.


And yet, the Roman Senate elected Pompey.

And then they asked Caesar to release his armies.


Caesar had a decision to make…

It’s said that the phrase “the die is cast” (in Latin) comes from Caesar’s moment of decision.


Instead of releasing his armies,

he decided to cross the Rubicon – to cross the river into Italy.

And from there he went on to defeat Spain, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and Pontus.

(I’m grateful for the research of Bishop Mike Rinehart and Jesus The Last Day: A Collection of Essays).[i]


After this seminal time in history,

Caesar takes a triumphal march into Rome.

Branches are thrown before him.

Cloaks are thrown on the ground.

He is given a purple robe and a gold crown.

As Caesar rides by on his horse – decked in his military dress –

people shout out, “Hail Caesar! Hail Caesar!”


In later years, this became a pattern…

Military leaders, fresh from battle would return triumphantly with a march –

each one trying to outdo the other.


Some leaders passed out perfumes to the crowd –

creating an ‘aroma of victory.’


Others began to include a bull in the procession

which would then be sacrificed on an altar before the people.

One part of the ritual was that the military victor would be presented with a cup of wine,

which he would ceremoniously refuse,

and instead would pour out onto the altar –

symbolizing the blood of the sacrifice.


I can imagine by now,

you can see some of the similarities between these military marches in Rome,

with what Mark descripes in his gospel as Jesus enters Jerusalem.


After all, Mark was in all likelihood written in Rome – and for Roman Christians.

They were very familiar with Caesar’s triumphal march and subsequent military processions.


Of course, Mark’s version of the march –

Mark’s description of Jesus’ procession into the city and then to the cross –

is different from these military marches in several pointed ways.


Jesus enters the city not on a horse,

but on a donkey – a symbol of peace.


He is given a purple robe and a crown –

but it is not a crown of gold, but of thorns.


People throw branches and strew their garments ahead of him,

as they shout out, “Hail, King of the Jews! Hail, King of the Jews!”


Later he too is given a cup of wine,

and he too refuses it – as he himself becomes the blood of the sacrifice.


Jesus’ march – Jesus’ procession into the city – is purposely different from Ceasar’s.

It is the “anti-march.”

Some scholars call it a counter-demonstration, a counter- protest

to Rome’s traditional military marches celebrating power and prestige and privilege.


How appropriate it is that we hear this story today –

the day after the March for Our Lives held yesterday in our nation’s capitol.


Yesterday’s march was an anti-march;

it was a counter-demonstration; a counter-protest.


It was an anti-march in that there actually was no march –

there were too many people for anyone to walk anywhere!


It was an anti-march in that the voices lifted up were not the powerful and prestigious and privileged

voices we often hear in Washington.

There were no big-name speakers or politicians on stage.

Instead there were children – youth – high school students and younger.


Perhaps one of the most compelling voices was that of Naomi Wadler.

Naomi is 11 years old and attends George Mason Elementary School here in Alexandria –

the same school where some of our young people attend.


Naomi and her friend Carter organized a walk-out a couple of weeks ago,

on the day of the high school walkouts in remembrance of those who died in school shootings

in Parkland, FL.

Most of the walk-outs were for 17 minutes –

one minute for each of the students who were killed.


But Naomi had another idea….she wanted the walkout at George Mason Elementary School to last 18 minutes –

she wanted to include Courtlin Arrington, a teenager who was killed

at her school in Birmingham, AL after the Parkland shooting.


Courtlin was an African-American high school student shot at her school.

Naomi wanted to draw attention to girls of color who have been killed by guns –

and yet whose stories have not made the front page of our newspapers.


With incredible poise, Naomi said,

“I am here to acknowledge and represent the African American girls

whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper,

whose stories don’t lead on the evening news.”


In the midst of this anti-march, led by young people,

Naomi presented a still more alternative vision –

to acknowledge those whose stories are ignored or forgotten.


This is what Jesus did.


With his entry into the city,

Jesus took part in a protest, a counter-demonstration, an anti-march.

He claimed solidarity not with the military or religious leaders of the city,

but with those without power, without prestige, and without privilege.

He lifted the voices of the innocent, the poor, and the marginalized.


As followers of him, may we take part in the anti-march.




Friends In Low Places


Friends in Low Places

John 4:1-10

March 18, 2018


Any country music fans here?

If so, you probably know some Garth Brooks…

One of his songs is, “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places.”


As the lyrics go, a cowboy shows up in a flannel shirt and boots

To a black tie affair where he meets up with his ex-partner.

She’s one to enjoy the high society life.

He’s different – he prefers his ‘friends in low places.’


That kind of describes Jesus, doesn’t it?


We’re continuing on during Lent

to talk about the places Jesus walked (using Adam Hamilton’s book, “The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus”)


A couple of weeks ago we talked about Capernaum –

and Jesus’ healing ministry starting there.


Last week we talked about the mountains where Jesus taught –

and in particular the place he taught The Sermon on the Mount.


Today we’re looking at the area of Samaria.

Samaria is important because this is a place

Where Jesus lived out his intention to make ‘friends in low places.’


I’d like you to look at your bulletins to see the map of the area.

Notice that if Jesus were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee,

The most direct route would be straight through the region of Samaria.


But most Jews – most good Jews – didn’t do that.

Most Jews would take a detour – they’d rather spend an extra day or two to avoid Samaria.



Well the conflict between Jews and Samaritans was hundreds of years old.

In the 8th century BCE, the Assyrians defeated Israel.

They took some Israelites back with them to live in exile.

But also some Assyrians stayed in Israel – in the area of Samaria.

Over the years they intermarried with the Israelites.

And so by the time of Jesus – still – those who lived in Samaria were considered ‘half-breeds.’


They weren’t allowed to worship in the temple in Jerusalem,

So they had their own temple at Mt Gerazim.


We come to today’s story where Jesus is passing through Samaria,

And he stops at a well.

It’s noon.


It was mostly women who went to the well every day to collect water.

But typically they went in the morning, before it got too hot…

And they would gather and talk at the well as their day began.


As Jesus sits at the well at noon,

A Samaritan woman comes to draw water.


So already we know, there must be something interesting

About this woman who’d show up at the well at noontime – maybe to avoid the other women.

Later we learn that she’s been married five times,

And the man she’s currently living with is not her husband.



Jesus asks her for a cup of water.

Now for a Jew to ask a Samaritan to share a cup of water,

Would be kind of like in the 1950’s Jim Crow south,

Using a water fountain that was marked for someone else.

It just wasn’t done – it wasn’t appropriate.


But Jesus preferred ‘friends in low places.’

His ministry was to the outsiders – the ones that others would ignore or worse.


Tony Campolo is a sociologist from Eastern University.

He does a lot of public speaking around the country.

He tells a story about a time when he had a speaking engagement in Hawaii.


He had a hard time adjusting to the time change,

And on his first night there, it was 2:30 in the morning and he was wide awake.


He realized he was hungry.

So he walked out of the hotel to find something to eat – at 2:30 in the morning.

He finds a nearby diner that’s open.


It’s one of those diners that’s open all the time –

(I’m reminded of the “Round the Clock” diner in York, Pa).

It’s not a fancy place.


He walks into the diner and sits at the counter.

Behind the counter is a guy whose nametag says ‘Harry.’

He’s wearing a white tee shirt – and the tee shirt is covered in grease.


Harry offers Tony a menu,

But Tony isn’t so sure he even wants to touch the menu –

It’s all sticky.


So Tony says, “I’ll just have a coffee and a donut.”


Harry pours him a cup of coffee,

And goes out back – somewhere – to find a donut.


Meanwhile, the door to the diner opens,

And 5 or 6 women walk in – they’re prostitutes.


And they take seats at the counter next to Tony.


Tony hears one of the prostitutes talking to the woman next to her.

She says, “Hey – did you know that tomorrow’s my birthday?”

The other woman responds sarcastically,

“Well, what do you want me to do about it?

Throw you a birthday party or bake a cake or something?”


‘No,” the first woman says.

“I’ve never had a cake or a party.

I just wanted to say that it’s my birthday tomorrow – I’ll be 39.”


After the women leave,

Tony has an idea.


He calls Harry over and says,

“Harry – did you see the woman that was sitting next to me at the counter?”


Harry says,

“Yes – that’s Agnes.”


Tony continues, “Well Agnes is having a birthday tomorrow. She’s going to be 39 year old.”


“Isn’t that something?” Harry responds.


Tony says, “I have an idea…do these women come here every night?”


Harry says, “Sure they do – same time – every night they’re here at 3am.”


“Well, “ Tony says, “What do say we throw Agnes a birthday party tomorrow night?

Right here in the diner!”


Harry starts to smile. “That’s a great idea!” he says.

“Agnes is a good one – she’s really a very kind woman once you get to know her.”

And Harry calls his wife Joan, who as it turns out is the cook.

She comes out front and gets excited about the party – and offers to bake a cake.


The next day, word seems to spread around the nighttime workers,

That there’s going to be a birthday party for Agnes at the diner.


Tony buys some streamers and hangs them all around the diner.

He gets some poster board and makes a sign, “Happy Birthday Agnes!”

And hangs it behind the counter on the mirror.


As 2:30am comes around, the diner is already packed with Agnes’ friends.


Precisely at 3am, Agnes and a few others come into the diner.

The diner erupts with “Happy Birthday Agnes!”


And Agnes is overwhelmed.

Her knees start to buckle and she gets teary-eyed.


But then comes the cake….

Joan comes out with a birthday cake just for Agnes,

With the candles all lit.


Agnes is still so overwhelmed she can’t blow out the candles herself –

She asks Harry to help.


And then Harry says, “Well, are you gonna cut the cake already?”


Agnes pauses and then says,

“Would it be okay if we didn’t cut the cake?

Would it be okay if I took the cake with me to show my mother?”


Harry says, “Well it’s your cake.”


And right then Agnes walks out the door with her cake.


After that, the diner became quiet – it was kind of awkward – they weren’t sure what to do.


So Tony says that he’s not sure why, but he said,

“Why don’t we pray?”


And he did – he prayed for Agnes and her birthday,

And the women, and their lives, and those who had been exploited by others,

And the pain they experienced….


And when he was done praying, Harry says,

“Hey – you didn’t tell me you were a preacher!

What kind of church are you at?”


“The kind of church that has birthday parties for prostitutes at 3 o’clock in the morning!” Tony responds.


But then Harry says..

“Nah…there isn’t a church like that.

Because if there were a church like that – I’d join it!”




Jesus chose friends in low places.

He wanted to model a church ‘like that.’


A challenge for us today is…

What is one thing you will do this week to make a friend in ‘low places’?

What can you do to help us be a church ‘like that’?





Faith Story – Resettling a Refugee Family

Faith story shared by Denise Elfes. Only initials are shared for the family’s privacy and safety.

Let me introduce you to a family

O. is a husband and father to 5 great kids. When he isn’t at work, he likes to swim at any opportunity. He also likes to play chess, or perhaps I should say that he likes to lose to his sons at chess.

T. is his wife. She likes gardening and is a terrific cook. T. also likes to sew, but unfortunately, currently her back hurts her too badly for her to do any sewing.

M. is the eldest daughter. She is 16 and a junior in high school where her favorite subject is history. She loves to read and watch movies. A perfect afternoon would be watching her favorite movie, The Faults in Our Stars and eating Snickers!

S. is 14 and a freshman in high school where her favorite subjects are math and science, which is good because S. wants to be a doctor. When asked what her favorite food was, she told me that it is pizza, and anything her mother cooks! She also loves to read. One of her favorite books turns out to one of my favorites too. The Kite Runner. We laughed about the fact that we both liked it, though she read it in Arabic and I in English. She likes watching sunsets and the moon, and especially snow!

MH, or H. as his family calls him, is 13 and is a very good chess player. He is also an orange belt in Karate, though he hasn’t trained since he left Egypt. His favorite class is history and math, which will come in handy in his planned career as a doctor.  He told me he wants to be a doctor because no one in his family ever has been.  I’m really proud of him.  He was nominated by his math teacher to be a student in the Early Identification Program at George Mason.  It is designed to help students from “Non-College” families. It offers advanced classes and workshops to help such students get a quick start towards a college-based career. He is a little confused, but also happy about it. He is a typical teen-ager in that most afternoons you’ll find him in his room playing video games.

A. is 11 and wants to be a heart surgeon! His favorite class is math and he is also a good chess player. Last Tuesday when I was there, he and I played a game of chess against H., and we won. H. was impressed that I knew how to play chess. He plays volleyball on his class team and also  likes to play American Football with his friends at school and to swim.

A. is the baby of the family at 8 years old. He is adorable. He told me that he likes to play basketball and playing with remote controlled cars and helicopters. He also told me that he had to leave his remote controlled toys in Egypt when they left. He likes candy and Disney cartoons.

These are the O’s, the Syrian refugee family that we are sponsoring along with Old Presbyterian Meeting House and First Christian.  I first met them when I signed up to help collect furnishings for their new home.  They were so grateful. Since then, I have visited them numerous times, and with each visit I have become closer to them. I took them shoe shopping with Gigi, I took T. and the girls grocery shopping and out to lunch.  That was the first time that they went out without O., and he was so nervous. They invited me to dinner one Sunday afternoon, but often, we just talk and have coffee, always coffee.  I love watching them blossom as they become comfortable in their new surroundings. I also love watching their English improving. I am so proud of them, especially O.’s getting a job.


I have never done anything like this before.  When they say “God works in mysterious ways” I couldn’t agree more.  I look forward to visiting the O’s.  We communicate using Google translate and that’s always a source of amusement.  We use it less and less as their English improves. T. and I have become friends.  I was so touched recently when O. declared that I am no longer just a friend of their family, I am now a member of it.  I almost cried I was so touched.  I don’t know who gets more from this friendship, but I think it is probably me.  I am blessed to have them as friends.


We are planning a dinner here with the O’s.  I hope that you will plan on attending so that you too can have an opportunity to meet my Syrian family, O., T., M., S., H., A., and A.


At some point, T. and O. would love to run a catering company.  She made a Syrian dish called Magdues, made of stuffed eggplant, walnuts, and spices.  She made several jars of it for us.  I am selling them for her for $10 each.  If you would like to purchase one, they are in the lounge.  This is a way for her to start earning some money, so purchasing one would be a great motivator for her!  And I think it is delish.